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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin already looking ahead to 2016

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin speedwalks to the podium and launches into his news conference routine as if it is Week 14.

Wearing a black Jordan shirt with a black Steelers hat, the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach evaluates the past performance, broadly looks at the future, then points out he'd be happy to address any questions.

He isn't all that happy, of course. He looks like a guy ready to dive into Patriots scouting reports. Ten regular season wins and one playoff win while fighting through several key injuries won't spark a celebration from this coach.

"I’m disappointed. That’s just an honest answer," Tomlin said at his season-ending news conference. "I think we all are. We appreciate the support we get from others, the fight and all of that, but we go into the journey with the understanding, it’s going to be difficult, a fight is going to be required.

"When we said to be world champion is our goal, we meant it."

As the Steelers wade through the haze of a trying, resurgent yet ultimately unrewarding season, Tomlin must drive to work every day in freezing Pittsburgh with football on his mind but no game plan to attack for another eight months.

But Tomlin quickly moved on to 2016, recognizing the increasing importance of the next eight months. He's conducting exit interviews with his players, nearly 20 of which will be free agents in March.

He has an increased appreciation for this, which requires pacing and patience.

"There are a lot of lines in the water," Tomlin said. "Not a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself. Such is life in our business."

Tomlin was optimistic about his team in several areas, including a defense he considers "a group on the rise." He gave defensive coordinator Keith Butler a stamp of approval, and he wants to retain all his assistants.

Tomlin will be spending lots of time with general manager Kevin Colbert in the next three months. Both immensely enjoy scouting players and savor these moments, Tomlin said. As for coalescing his current crop of players with draft picks, he's flexible with lineup changes, rotations, whatever works.

He doesn't sound tied to anything, other than carrying two good kickers on the roster -- Chris Boswell and Shaun Suisham -- which is "always good to have." Suisham tore his ACL in the preseason, and Boswell adequately replaced him.

Sure, Tomlin would go to a heavier defensive line rotation ... if guys earn playing time. Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt played the majority of the defensive end snaps.

The return of Maurkice Pouncey in 2016 could force the Steelers into decisions with center Cody Wallace and free agent left tackle Kelvin Beachum. Present a dozen different offensive line lineup combinations and Tomlin would be tempted to explore all of them.

"I’m open to any mix that will put us in the best position to win," Tomlin said.